U.S. presidential elections are extraordinary moments—ruptures in everyday time, full of transformative promise. Maybe. More than two decades ago, in her seminal essay on time, Nancy D. Munn wrote: “the topic of time frequently fragments into all the other dimensions and topics anthropologists deal with in the social world.” So, in the cacophonous 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, how do we perceive time and why might that matter?
Elections, embedded in cyclical time, are sometimes interpreted as pivotal events that shape longer histories. Such histories can be narrated as slow change, fast change, or stasis; crisis or normalcy; repetitive or linear process; progress or regress. Anthropologists are attuned as well to smaller-scale temporalities. They listen for different personal experiences of time and observe social configurations in which they nest.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Angelique Haugerud.
“America is a shining example of how to hold a free and fair election, right?” asks Bassem Youssef, a comedian and former heart surgeon who is often referred to as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart.” Astute answers to that question about the condition of U.S. democracy often come from foreigners such as satirists, as well as my East African research interlocutors.
Like Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show), Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), and Jon Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Bassem Youssef uses irony and satire to hold a mirror up to society, and to unsettle conventional political and media narratives. State political pressure forced termination of the popular satirical news show Youssef created in Egypt during the Arab Spring. He then moved to the United States, became a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in 2015, and in 2016 started a new show in the United States called “Democracy Handbook” on Fusion TV. As foreigners, Youssef, Jon Oliver (British), and Trevor Noah (South African) wittily play off stereotypes of their own home regions as they comment on events in the United States—such as Trevor Noah’s Daily Show segment comparing the 2016 Republican presidential nominee to African dictators.
The best introductory text to the events immediately preceding the protest is this piece by J. Michael Cole in The Diplomat:
Thousands of Taiwanese were surrounding and occupying the Legislative Yuan (LY) in Taipei on March 19 after legislators from the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) expedited the review process of a services trade pact with China that many fear could have damaging repercussions on Taiwan’s economy and sovereignty.
“You know, you’re not going to stop neoliberal reform of the university.” A professor once wrote me this. I soon learned that she was equal parts critical of such reforms and resigned to them, and it seems like many of us exist in this contradiction. Now I admit, reading these words from a superior makes building a local counter-movement to these changes feel as effectual as trying to corral cats — and almost as silly. That might be the case most of the time. But not always. And definitely not this month at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. So here’s what happened and how it might be of interest to others in parallel situations.
The latest trigger was when the university library staff received letters at home informing them they couldn’t count on keeping their jobs. Among the 168 staff members (of whom 56 would be cut) the frustration was unmistakable, and their response included a silent protest by about 150 at the latest meeting the works council had with the board. Three days later, the board announced their decision to put the whole reorganization of the library on hold while replacing its responsible officer. The outcome wasn’t ideal – many were convinced this was simple scapegoating, were uncertain what the replacement would mean, and knew delays didn’t mean the issue was settled. But it showed that the path to cuts and reorganizations could be disrupted by organized employees prepared to stick by their arguments.
[This month, Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Donya Alinejad]
“For the first time I feel like this is my university.” Over the past year, hearing this comment – and ones like it – from colleagues in the hallways has been no coincidence. This past year at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) has been marked by plans for a set of deep and unprecedented budgetary cuts and reorganizations that will mean things like jobs lost, fewer student services provided, and workloads increased. But this period has also been one in which national media and political attention turned, however briefly, towards a bottom-up, employee-led movement (that we started building at our university against these damaging measures. During this period colleagues referred to a sense of ownership over the university. It was a budding and unique engagement among the many of us involved in this workplace movement. But the feeling was also fleeting, a rupture that plainly demonstrated the contrast with how marginalized the university’s employees normally feel.
The internet is translative boundary object for political thought, situated between four liberal ideologies about freedom and the state, corporation, individual, and the public. The internet is thus a parallax object, looking different from what ideological perspective one looks at it. Continue reading →
In 2006, according to Time Magazine, the theory of technoindividualism “took a serious beating.” In electing You to the position of the Person of the Year, Time prophesized the fourth discourse of internet historiographical revisionism following President Obama’s statement. It was not the state, corporations, or genius insiders who made the internet, nonfiction best seller author and transhuman apologist Steven Johnson claimed in the New York Times, but Us who built the internet. Continue reading →
Thus far Crovitz’s and Manjoo’s positions are located within modernist historiographical and liberal conceptions over the battles of freedom, with network technology as a proxy battlefield, and the role of states and corporations as extenders or inhibitors of those freedoms. The third leg of this modernist battle has to be initiated by the sole genius and his impact on the development of the internet. Continue reading →
Despite Crovitz’s best wishes, Taylor’s Xerox PARC Ethernet didn’t become the internet as Slate’s Farhad Manjoo and Time’s Harry McCracken explain. Two days later, Manjoo rebutted Crovitz’s “almost hysterically false” argument. Aligning with given wisdom, Manjoo stated that the internet was financed and created by the US government. Despite being more historically accurate than Crovitz’s argument this statement is also political. In reminding the residents of Roanoke of the government’s role in the founding of the internet, President Obama, according to Manjoo, “argued that wealthy business people owe some of their success to the government’s investment in education and basic infrastructure.” This argument is progressive, social democratic, or socially liberal–advocating for responsible taxation and the shared burden of national identification, and is therefore a political narrative opposed to the Darwinism of technolibertarianism expounded by the Technology Liberation Front. Continue reading →
Obama may have gaffed, neoliberal assistant editors at Fox News and the Republican National Committee, exploitatively edited, repurposed, and exaggerated the speech, but it was Wall Street Journal writer L. Gordon Crovitz who mistook the misedits as evidence for US executive branch internet revisionism. Crovitz, ex-publisher of the Journal, ex-executive at Dow Jones, and social media start-up entrepreneur, attacked President Obama’s statement that the internet was funded and engineered by the federal government. “It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet,” he idiosyncratically declared. The crux of Crovitz’s argument was focused on Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPAnet, a US DAPRA project that connected computer networks to computer networks. Taylor, according to Crovitz, stated that this proto-internet, “was not an Internet.” And therefore, most importantly for Crovitz, this meant that President Obama was dead wrong, Taylor, a federal employee at this time did not help to invent the internet. The internet was not made by engineers paid by public but private hands. Crovitz’s twist on the accepted story is that Taylor later made a different internet, ethernet, at Xerox PARC where we worked after DARPA. And it was Ethernet that became the internet. Continue reading →
[This is a part of a six part blog on four debates about the origins of the internet. Please see all six posts here.]
Suddenly in the wake of President Barack Obama’s untimely but ultimately non-fatal but non-optimal grammar, the question of who made what when and how much the government had or had not to do with it was up for debate. Resisting the attacks on all things federal at the tail end of the 2012 US presidential election, President Obama said to a crowd in Roanoke, Virginia on July 13, 2012:
“The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all companies could make money off the internet.” Continue reading →
This is Part III of a series of posts on anthropology and democracy. Part I is here, Part II, here.
In the USA, the spectre of democracy looms. It is days away. November 6, when people all across the country will step into a small booth and exercise their right to participate in the democratic system by choosing between representatives from the two dominant political parties (oh, and a slew of others that the vast majority of people have not heard of). This is democracy at the highest political level. Democracy at its finest. The pinnacle. Right?
Maybe not. Maybe, as DJ pointed out in his comment, we need to pay attention to the various scales at which democracy operates–and what that means for our understanding(s) of what democratic practices are all about. In the US, I think it’s both interesting and telling that the presidential elections are often treated as a kind of democratic pinnacle or climax–as if it’s really the most important part of the massive iceberg of political and/or potential democratic action. What about all of the democracies–or lack thereof–taking place as we trickle on down the various levels of social structure? Things start to look different, maybe, when they move away from the media pomp and glitz that absolutely drench presidential election hoopla. And this has me wondering whether all of this focus on “the big event” serves a certain political purpose in its own right. If everyone is paying attention to the big event, what’s happening everywhere else?
And where does the anthropological project fit within all this? When I posted the first installment of this series, calling for a collective investigation of anthropology & democracy, Keith Hart wrote this as a reply on Facebook: “Seems like a good idea to me, especially since the origins of anthropology in the 18th century’s revolutionary democratic project has been forgotten by practitioners (honorable exceptions include L.H. Morgan) for over 200 years.”
Which leads me to this question: Is anthropology a democratic project these days? It is, after all, buried within not-so-democratic institutions (this very question was raised by regular commenter DWP in response to my second post). Do we strive for anthropology to be democratic, or is that just the kind of politicization that ought best be avoided? Should anthropologists stand aside and study the various “democracies” around the world in a detached, objective manner, or should anthropology be geared toward fostering democratic practices and institutions? When it comes to democracy, do we stand outside the fish bowl looking in, or do we jump in and try to manage the currents from within? Please take these questions and run with them. Or swim, as it may be…
an experience that many have had and that some have written about has been providing expert opinion. I’m sharing here to see what people’s experience might be like.
last weekend, I attended a conference of ethnic Chinese professional people of various political identities, but all living in the United States. The conference made me anxious for several reasons: first, public gigs of this sort always give me the willies; second, the organization seemed tied to political interests and organizations toward which I am at best ambivalent; and finally the organizers wanted to have several talks on “indigenous education”—an issue that has been highly politicized and contentious on Taiwan. And I found myself both as a token “American” (meaning, in Mandarin Chinese white person) and as an anthropologist who has worked in Taiwanese indigenous communities, a token indigenous voice. Continue reading →
So here’s part two in a continuing series of posts about anthropology and democracy.
Here’s what I have in mind for this one: there are a lot of you anthropological folks out there in the world, and I think it might be interesting for some of you to put your skills into practice and see what you can come up with. This invitation is open to all: grad students who are so busy you can’t even fathom democracy, assistant profs, undergrads, famous anthropologists, and everyone in between. Let’s see what we got. Here’s the prompt: What is democracy looking like through your little peepholes into the world? Where is it and what’s it all about? Let me know what it’s looking like on your street, at your college, your field site, excavation, lab, or in your neighborhood, city, or community. Is democracy just some rumor, some fantasy–or is it unmistakeable, concrete, and material? Is Democracy the local chapter of a political party that’s going door to door trying to rally support for their candidate? Is it a bunch of signs stuck in lawns? Or someone driving through town with a megaphone blaring? Is it some whisper in a restaurant–or graffiti screaming about politics from some freeway overpass? Let’s hear some details, folks. I am looking for the good stuff, the real nitty-gritty of democracy as you see it, taste it, feel it, and crash into it like some sharp-edged table in a dark room. Ya, that stuff. Don’t over think it all, just post it. 250 words? 500? 100? Whatever, just post something.
Since it’s my idea, I will be the guinea pig and go first. Here’s my off-the-cuff response: Continue reading →